Monday, April 27, 2009

Meat on a Veggie Stick - What's Not to Like?

Does your mouth water when you read this: grilled asparagus wrapped in STEAK? I thought so. It's exactly what I made to bring to an afternoon picnic a few weeks back, and what a time it was! Allow me to share.

In the company of good friends, good food doesn't always help make the memories. But it certainly doesn't hurt. Fortunately for me, so many of my dear friends are excellent cooks, and social gatherings abound with scrumptious fare. For this particular soiree, a crew of us gathered at the idyllic Sebastapol home of friends Beth and Simon to visit with some Bay Area ex-pats that we see far too often. Julie, Todd and their two cherubic tow-headed children were in town, and that was reason enough to fire up the barbecue.

The affair was largely potluck style - a great ploy to ensure that Jessica would bring dessert - always a highlight! (And of course, she delivered with a knock-out pumpkin/cherry bread that was really cake in loaf form.) Grilled organic sausages, beet salad, decadent cheese platters and lots of red, red wine all found their way to the table. As mentioned, my contribution was this self-fashioned "satay" - grilled asparagus spears wrapped in tri-tip - the idea of which was sparked from a picture I saw somewhere online, although I couldn't tell you where (maybe Yahoo Food?). At any rate, I marinated and basted the tri-tip with a Japanese Ponzu Sauce, and had peanut sauce for dipping. It's a dish that can be served either hot or cold - so it's pretty versatile and travels well. Really, a more perfect day could not have been had, and I'm only bummed that there were a few folks who weren't able to make it (they were missed - and you know who you are!).

At any rate, with spring asparagus starting to shoot up in the markets, this a perfect seasonal dish to enjoy right now. Just make sure to share it with friends - the only thing guaranteed to make the experience all the sweeter.

Asparagus and Beef Tri-Tip Satay
  • 1 pound asparagus spears, ends trimmed (I usually go for the thinnest possible asparagus, but in this case, a thicker stalk is actually preferable to stand up to the weight of the meat; go for stalks that are about dime-width.)
  • 1 pound beef tri-tip roast, sliced super thin
  • Ponzu sauce for marinating/basting
  • Peanut sauce for dipping (I actually don't make my own peanut sauce, so am not providing a recipe here. With so many excellent sauces on the commercial market, it's just as easy and tasty to buy it. My current go-to brand: House of Tsang.)
Ponzu sauce
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup dashi (or vegetable stock)
Start by blanching the asparagus spears by dropping into boiling water for approximately 2 minutes; remove and place immediately in an ice bath to halt the cooking process. Once cooled, drain the ice water and pat spears dry. Wrap each spear with a thin slice of the tri-tip; place in a shallow dish filled with the ponzu sauce. Coat each spear thoroughly with the sauce, and marinate for up to an hour. Place the marinated spears on a very hot grill; sear the beef for about 1 minute each side (the beef is very thin so the cooking doesn't take long at all). Baste the spears with the reserve ponzu while on the grill. Serve with peanut sauce for dipping.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Cookie Bouquet to Brighten Your Day

Did you know it's National Volunteer Week? In my job at Guide Dogs for the Blind, I am fortunate to work with some very dedicated volunteers, and we always like to recognize them for going above and beyond with their time and talents. This year, our team recognized two of our most loyal supporters, Bob and Elisabeth (GDB volunteers for 30+ years!), by presenting them with a homemade cookie bouquet. The gift was such a big hit, that I thought I'd share it here in the event anyone out there needs a kick in the pants to recognize someone who is important to your life or livelihood.

The cookies themselves were made by my friend, co-worker and baker extraordinaire
, Nancy, and her recipe is included below. Notice her exquisite decorating skills! And is that a Swiss flag I see? The attention to detail is astonishing! :) I then took her ridiculously tasty baked goods-on-a-stick and gussied them up to look pretty when we presented them to Bob and Elisabeth; another friend and co-worker, Sierra, snapped the photos; Joanne and Denise (the final friends/coworkers) helped with quality control taste tests.

And there you have it. Although the idea is not an original one, a cookie bouquet is a simple and truly personalized way to say you care. Now go do it! After all, life is too short to not show your appreciation.

Sugar Cookies
Contributed by Nancy Olivas
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside. Cream the sugar and butter well, then add vanilla and eggs and mix in. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until well blended. Chill dough for at least 30 minutes, then roll to desired thickness and cut into shapes. Chill another 30 minutes, then bake at 325 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until the cookies just begin to brown slightly at the edges. Makes a dozen large cookies.

Icing (This recipe works well because it hardens quite quickly, allowing you to stack the cookies for transport.)
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon meringue powder
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2-6 tablespoons water
Combine everything in a bowl, adding enough water to make the icing spreadable. Divide icing and tint to desired color. Spread onto cookies and allow to set at least several hours.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Dish: Fare to Remember Photo/Recipe Sightings

A couple of my recent posts have found some love out there on the internets. Here's a run-down of some FTR take-out!
Sharing the good life, one serving at a time! Thanks for your support everyone!

Morel Mania (Yes, I have it!): Lemon/Pepper Pappardelle with Morels, Broccolini and Sage Browned Butter

I'm just going to let this picture speak for itself. Hungry yet?

Morel mushrooms - although not exactly purty - are one of the mushroom kingdom's greatest gifts to the world. And if you're as big a fan of morels as I am, meaning you covet them, and stalk them for the few weeks of the year when they are available fresh, and are willing to pay out the nose for them if you don't hunt them yourself ($50 a pound is not uncommon)... well then - the photo and recipe for this pasta dish should set you drooling. And I can assure you, it is as good as it looks and sounds. (Truth be told - this dish can be made with any meaty mushrooms: portobellos, shiitakes, crimini or even plain old white buttons. Good to know for the other 11 months of the year when you can't get morels!)

Credit goes to my friend Pauline for the suggestion of adding sage to the browned butter (I'm usually just a purist - butter, mushrooms and a dash of salt please!) - but the herb just livens up the earthy, woodsiness of the mushrooms even more. You really can taste the forest from whence they come - and if you're lucky, the smoke from the fires that coaxed the spores to life. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

So get theyself to a good Farmers Market in the coming weeks and gorge on these goodies while you can. Mother Nature giveth, and she taketh away - so don't let Spring pass you by without making a meal out of some morels!

Lemon/Pepper Pappardelle with Morels, Broccolini and Sage Browned Butter
  • 8 ounces pappardelle pasta (I used the DELICIOUS lemon/pepper variety from Trader Joe's)
  • 1/2 pound of fresh morel mushrooms (To clean morels: soak in really cold water to remove dirt; rinse/repeat until water runs clear. You can also gently rub them between your fingers to loosen dirt from the grooves. Air dry thoroughly.)
  • 1/4 pound broccolini, trimmed (broccoli rabe will also work)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 6-8 large sage leaves, chopped
Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain. If sticky, coat with a touch of olive oil and toss to separate the pasta ribbons. In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter starts to foam and the edges have browned (stir to avoid burning - and keep the heat low!), add the sage and mushrooms. Saute until tender, about five minutes. Add the tiny broccolini at the very end, saute until al dente. Top individual servings of the pasta with generous heapings of the mushroom mixture.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kumquat Creation: Garlic Firecracker Prawns with Kumquat Molasses Glaze

Kumquats are so cute. I mean really, how can you resist? The bright orange, bite-size fruit just scream "Nature's Candy." But if you're new to kumquats, you might not be entirely sure what they are or how to eat them. Do you peel and segment them like little oranges? (A vision that immediately conjures up the scene in the movie "Big" where Tom Hanks' character nibbles an ear of baby corn as you would corn on the cob.) The Kumquat Growers, obviously, spell it out best: "The kumquat has a thin, sweet peel and a zesty, somewhat tart center. The kumquat tastes best if it is gently rolled between the fingers before being eaten, as this releases the essential oils in the rind. Eat kumquats as you would eat grapes (with the peel)."

They lend themselves beautifully to desserts and salads, and perhaps my favorite: marmalade. I actually set out to make kumquat marmalade when I brought home my stash of the little beauties because I wanted to use it in a marinade for some shrimp. But when I got right down to it, I hadn't purchased enough kumquats to make a proper batch, nor was I actually that ambitious. So, that idea evolved a little bit and I made a quickie kumquat/molasses glaze instead. It did the job nicely! The sweet and tangy glaze was the perfect counterpoint to the garlicky, spicy prawns. So the next time you're ready to throw some shrimp on the Barbie, this is a wonderful way to go!

Grilled Garlic Firecracker Prawns with Kumquat/Molasses Glaze

  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • The juice of one small lemon
  • 3-4 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Oilve oil, enough to coat the shrimp
  • 15 kumquats, split in half and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons dark molasses
  • Dash of kosher salt
In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes until well coated. Let marinate for one hour minimum. In a blender, combine glaze ingredients and puree (will not be entirely smooth due to the kumquat peels). Add more molasses to taste for extra sweetness. Thread prawns on skewers, and brush with the glaze. Place over high heat on BBQ grill, basting frequently with the glaze. The shrimp take no more than 3 minutes per side to cook thoroughly (don't overcook or the prawns will be rubbery!). Serve hot or cold (great picnic item!).

Hubby Helpings: Boys Will Be Boys

When my DH is left to his own devices in culinary matters, this is the result:

That's right. A single hulking three-pound beef rib; one potato; one onion. Nothing green allowed. Well-seasoned and grilled over indirect heat for nearly three hours. As reminiscent of neanderthals this club-o-meat might be, the result is fall-off-the-bone delicious (I must admit that I was first in line for a bite, and relished wiping the smear of grease from my lips).

Ran got the massive rib at our neighborhood Mexican market, a place that has a real old-fashioned meat counter, and butchers who only speak Spanish. But language is never a barrier, I suspect, between two grown men on the subject of meat. A point, a nod, a grunt, a done deal. Eight bucks later, and Ran's got sustenance for a couple of meals. If only everything were so easy.

And in all fairness, Ran did conjur up a green vegetable (baby peas) to liven up his spread. This is a health-conscious household after all. Riiight....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Let's Get Fresh: Pomelos

My latest foray to the Farmers Market yielded a bounty of seasonal goodies - I LOVE Spring! As I've mentioned previously, the Winter market is no wasteland, but there's something to be said about the market when the offerings start to explode, and the colors and flavors remind you that yes, indeed, Winter is no Spring. My haul included my most-coveted item of the year, morel mushrooms, as well as kumquats, avocados, fava beans (another favorite), spring garlic and one big pomelo. I'll have posts featuring recipes with many of my finds throughout the week, but am going to kick it off with the pomelo.

So a pomelo is basically a grapefruit on steroids, only sweeter. It's official name says it all: Citrus Maxima - it's the largest of the citrus fruits, and its flesh can be white or pink. I use a pomelo pretty much as I would a grapefruit. And this time around, I didn't even bother putting the one I brought home to good use in a recipe. I just sliced it up, peeled back the thick, pithy rind, and commenced eating it all on its own. But if you're hankering for a really fresh salad, here's a recipe that's included in the Fare to Remember cookbook; simply swap the grapefruit with pomelo.

Mâche Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

• 4 ounces mâche (lamb’s lettuce)
• 2 grapefruits, peeled and cubed
• 1 avocado, peeled and cubed
• 1 cup walnut pieces or halves

• 1 cup olive oil
• 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
• 1/2 cup champagne
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• Pinch sugar, optional

Toast walnuts in a sauté pan with a splash of olive oil. Season with salt. Whisk together dressing ingredients. Assemble salad and toss with dressing.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

When Life Hands You Lemons

As seems to be the case with me sometimes, the stars have aligned. Weeks back, my good friend Kristin gifted me a beautiful slender glass bottle of her homemade limoncello. The liqueur had been steeping away for months under her careful attention, gathering flavor and potency until it was just right. When my precious allotment was handed over, I promptly put it in the freezer, awaiting just the right moment to bust it out.

And then, last week during our visit to Moondance Cellars (see my previous Shameless Plug here!), I discovered Dave and Priscilla's Meyer Lemon tree, and was given carte blanche access to take as many lemons as I like. And they had plenty.... they keep a strand of Christmas lights threaded through the tree, the heat of which is just enough to keep the tree producing gorgeous, sweet fruit year-round. I mean, get a load of this:

Needless to say, I brough home a LOT of lemons. And commenced to make a rather adult version of lemonade.

I started by making a Meyer Lemon/Mint Granita - a refreshing, sweet treat all on its own. It makes for a wonderful dessert - and of course (because it's me!) - it really couldn't be any easier. That Granita then became the base for a cocktail utilizing Kristin's limencello. The result is a very grown-up lemon Slurpee, perfect for a hot summer afternoon. (I know it's only Spring - but I'm pretending.) At any rate - enjoy. There's nothing sour about these recipes!

Meyer Lemon/Mint Granita

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup Meyer Lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup loosely-chopped mint
In a saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon juice and mint, and bring up to a boil again for an additional 2 minutes. Pour into a flat casserole pan through a fine mesh seive to remove mint leaves; place the pan in the freezer. Every 30 minutes, rake the liquid with a fork as it freezes to produced a shaved-ice consistency. It will be frozen completely after about 3-4 hours.

Limoncello Fizz
Pour 1 shot limoncello* into the bottom of a martini glass. Add a heaping scoop of the Meyer Lemon/Mint Granita. Fill the remainder of the glass with sparkling apple cider. (Would be an excellent non-alchoholic drink as well - just eliminate the Limoncello.)

*Interested in making your own limoncello? Get your copy of the Fare to Remember Cookbook, for a recipe contributed by my friend Jill, master limoncello maker!!

The Best Asian-Style Chicken Salad You've Ever Had. Promise.

I have been making this salad since God knows when. I'm loathe to call it the ubiquitous "Chinese Chicken Salad" - since I'm certain the Chinese don't really have an equivalent - but that's the general idea. The salad is so addictive, that I'll often get in a funk and make little else for days on end until my cravings have been more than satisfied. Load it up with seasonal vegetables, and it's healthy, gorgeous, and (it should go without saying), delicious.

Somewhere along the way, I learned and tweaked a recipe for an Asian-style salad dressing that rivals anything commercially available - it's one of the key elements that make this salad so addictive. And the dressing's secret ingredient? A flavoring packet from a ramen noodle package (not too upscale - but go there! I promise it's worth it!). The second key is the simple soy sauce marinade for the chicken (or tofu - or beef - pick your flavor). My sister taught me the marinade recipe after she returned from a student exchange program in Hawaii. As we all know, the Hawaiians are big fans of SPAM, and this marindate is what they use to flavor the SPAM before frying it up and tucking it into musubi rolls (think sushi with fried SPAM). Not exactly a fan of the canned meat product myself, so I was thrilled to give it a go on more recognizable protein sources and discover just how delicious it is.

The rest is pretty much DYI - add the veggies of your choice, toss a few crunchy toasted almonds and some toasted ramen noodles in there (no sense wasting them!) - and off you go. Dinner heaven.

Asian-Style Chicken Salad
  • Your choice of greens - I like butter lettuce, iceburg lettuce or shredded cabbage.
  • Your choice of chopped veggies - suggestions: bell peppers of all colors, carrots, scallions, red onion, celery, jicama, waterchestnuts, cucumber.
  • Your choice of protein - I like chicken, tofu or beef - soy marinade recipe to follow.
  • Slivered almonds, toasted
  • Ramen noodles, toasted (break apart the brick of raw noodles, crush into small pieces and toast under the broiler); freshly-puffed rice noodles are also excellent!
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Salad dressing, recipe to follow.
Soy Marinade (makes enough for 1 pound of chicken, beef or tofu)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
Combine the soy and the sugar; stir until the sugar dissolves. Add chicken, coat completely, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from fridge about 10 minutes prior to cooking to bring the temperature up a bit. Saute the chicken in a pan over medium-high heat until cooked through; add reserves of the marinade a bit at a time as the chicken cooks to create a glaze.

Asian-Style Salad Dressing
  • 1/4 cup salad oil (I use canola, but vegetable oil works well too)
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sugar
  • 1 flavor packet from a package of Oriental-flavored ramen noodles
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Dash of red pepper flakes
Combine ingredients in a cruet; shake to combine.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dinner Rolls Done Easy

Does anyone need a recipe for delicious but simple dinner rolls for this Easter Sunday? My mom just submitted this recipe and photo to me, and I thought it might make for a great Easter meal accompaniment, be it for brunch or dinner. She says that although the rolls are delicious all on their own, she uses this recipe for eclairs or cream puffs too. And her roast beef/horseradish variation sounds yummy!

Dinner Rolls
Contributed by Judy Angell
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • l cup flour
  • l/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 eggs
Melt butter in boiling water. Add the flour and salt; stir until the mixture forms a solid mass that doesn't separate. Remove from heat and cool a bit. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well between each. Spoon onto cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees. Turn oven to 350 degrees and cook for 7 minutes more. Serve while warm. Makes 20.

Variation: Embed a thin slice of roast beef covered with a mustard/horseradish sauce into the roll dough before baking.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Shameless Plug: Moondance Cellars

Any night is a marvelous night for a Moondance... a glass of Moondance wine that is! Yesterday, Ran and I spent an amazing Spring afternoon with our friends Dave and Priscilla at their winery, Moondance Cellars. Tucked into a little corner of paradise in Sebastopol, CA, Dave and Priscilla run the winery out of their home ranch, a sprawling country plot with beautiful gardens, horse pastures and vineyard views. It's a special place, and they make some special wines. You can order their wines online, but better yet, call them up and arrange for a visit. You'll be glad you did!

The remains of our tasting afternoon....

Sushi Night! Miraku Restaurant in Walnut Creek, CA

My friend Tracy introduced me to a sushi restaurant in Walnut Creek that I'd probably driven by hundreds of times and never had given a second glance. Boy, am I dummy. And apparently the last to know as well. Miraku, the unassuming restaurant tucked in amongst the tire shops and auto dealerships of North Broadway, is consistently rated as among the best sushi restaurants in the East Bay. Let's just say that I'm thrilled to be better late than never: it's my new go-to sushi place when I'm out in the Creek! Sometimes, the pictures just say it all....

My go-to spicy tuna handroll:

Quite possibly the most perfect piece of nigiri I think I've ever had: Super White Tuna (Escolar) with garlic and scallions:

You know it's going to be good when the chef whips out the blow torch!

The finished Firecracker Roll: spicy tuna tempura on the inside and blowtorched scallops on the outside, finished with crispy potato filaments and a couple of sauces that I won't even attempt to describe:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hot Wing(less) Grilled Cheese Sandwich

So yesterday there was sort of this "perfect storm" of events that led to the creation of this ridiculously over-the-top hella good grilled cheese sandwich. Here's the back story - stick with me as I guide you through my cheese-saturated state of mind:
  • As I was reading my digital newspaper in the morning, there was an article in the SF Chronicle titled "Ten Iconic California Cheeses," which of course set me a-droolin'.
  • With cheese on the brain, I then stumbled head-on into a Facebook posting from Sunset Magazine that read: "Sunset needs your great grilled cheese recipe!"
  • That got me thinking about the last grilled cheese sandwich I had (months ago!) at one of Napa's best restaurants, BarbersQ, where the simple cheddar-on-sourdough sandwich comes accompanied by the restaurant's irresistable barbeque sauce for dunking (if you are in the know to ask, that is!).
  • And finally, when I got home from my long day, Randall announces (independent of my earlier cheesy encounters, mind you) that he's been craving a grilled cheese and is going to whip one up for dinner and would I like one?
Are you kidding me?! At that point, I just gave in and figured that fighting the obvious was pointless, and set about to make a grilled cheese like no other.

So with the BarbersQ sandwich and the iconic California cheeses providing the inspiration, the thought occured to me that all of the ingredients for hot wings (yes - the very same we all suck down with cold beers at bars and Hooters restaurants across this great land) would make an excellent, unique grilled cheese. The flavors make for an awesome combination: the meatiness of the chicken; the tangy, spicy, hot pepper marinade; and the creamy, cool blue cheese dipping sauce. There's a reason that hot wings are so popular - and it doesn't all have to do with beer consumption.

For this sandwich, I used two of the cheeses on the iconic list: Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk and Point Reyes Original Blue. The cheeses are layered with deli-thin slices of oven-roasted chicken breast between two slabs of four-cheese sourdough bread. The toasted sandwich is then served with a hot wing-style dipping sauce on the side. And it works! The sandwich really does evoke the flavors of hot wings, and goes down equally well with a beer!

I don't know yet if I'll submit this recipe to Sunset. But that wasn't really the point. I got the whole grilled cheese craving out of the way, and made up a killer new recipe along the way. Now I just have to deal with grilled cheese guilt!

It was SOOOO worth it.
Hot Wing(less) Grilled Cheese Sandwich

For the sandwich:
  • Sliced sourdough bread (I used a four-cheese variety)
  • Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Cheese (or any triple-cream cheese)
  • Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese (or any blue cheese)
  • Roasted chicken breast, deli sliced
For the hot wing(less) dipping sauce:
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hot pepper or Tabasco sauce (or more, to taste and heat preference)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 shot Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash of smoked paprika
  • Dash of salt
Pre-heat a grill pan or griddle to medium, melting a tablespoon of butter as the pan comes to temperature. Grill the sandwich until the cheese is melted, turning once, taking care to not let the bread get too toasted before the cheese is melted throughout. Serve with dipping sauce on the side.